Somnambule - Writing About Music

Moebius & Rother

ICA / 20 July 2006

Dieter Moebius and Michael Rother are two key figures in German art music and also in the wider narrative of popular music. Their solo and collaborative work impacted perhaps most famously upon David Bowie by way of Brian Eno’s interest, but it’s difficult to envisage how fair swathes of electronica and post-rock would have developed without them. Rother was one half of motorik superstars Neu! and one third of its gentler offshoot Harmonia. The latter group also comprised Dieter Moebius and Hans Joachim Roedelius, the two members of the deliciously low-key Cluster. Thus grew some of the twisted roots of the unattractively titled music best known as Krautrock. Neither Rother nor Moebius have stopped making music in the nearly three decades since their critical heyday. And here they are taking to the stage of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts on a sweltering summer’s evening. They’re looking pretty good: lined but healthy faces, full heads of, admittedly grey, hair. Dieter Moebius sits behind a bank of instruments while Michael Rother stands to his right, guitar slung over his back, ready at any moment for action. As dry ice swirls round the stage and an out of focus video of a field of flowers plays on the video behind them, they launch into their first song.

Past glories in no way guarantee continued greatness and for the first four or five songs, I’m baffled by the apparent anonymity of the music. It’s a strange mix of ‘90s trance, budget ‘70s soundtrack and sub-Orb ambience. The venue is by no means packed and I find myself moving around to try to relate to the music. I try near the front, then move to the side and finally end up at the back. I even begin to consider leaving early like a small, but steady trickle of my fellow spectators, but I decide to persevere and sometime about the fifth or sixth track something changes. Whether it’s me or the music itself I’m not sure, but Moebius is playing a driving synthetic rhythm and Rother begins to play in a way that’s highly redolent of, though not identical to, his work in Neu! and Harmonia. His guitar has that wistful minimalism - that gentle, but proud generosity that, when you’re keyed into it, is like a gift from a better place. From that point on, everything’s right and good and even great. The music isn’t pastiche or pale shadow. The song that succeeds my own personal turning point bears an understated, almost baroque elegance that’s typical of Cluster in its mid ‘70s heyday. And so the evening continues alternating, juggling and exploring the legacy of Neu!, Cluster and Rother and Moebius’s subsequent careers until the final encore. At various points those trance, soundtrack and ambient elements resurface, but now they seem richer, woven into a backdrop formed in large part by Moebius and Rother themselves.
Colin Buttimer
Published by Signal To Noise